Monthly Archives: April 2013

Communications Consulting: 3 Things Not to Do

Something about spring reminds me of The Incident at CIA Headquarters, which got me thinking about the adventures I’ve had at Akoya while supporting our clients’ communications needs. My cautionary tales could save a career or even a life. Maybe yours.

exit sign for CIA Headquarters
Image courtesy of Fletcher6, Wikipedia Commons

Lesson 1: Beware food courts, especially the quiche.

During an aeronautics conference for NASA that Akoya managed, my co-worker Wendy and I crossed Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta with our client, Diane. At a rundown mall, Diane and Wendy made fun of me for not trying the quiche at the food court. Instead I got Chinese and we sat and ate and they remarked how good the quiche was and why wouldn’t I try it? A few hours later, Wendy grew queasy, and rushed off. Then Diane did the same, and I was left to soldier on alone. (Cosmic Lesson for them: Don’t make fun of Robert.)

Lesson 2: Don’t walk out of your client’s hotel room at 7:30 A.M.

Diane was sick all night with food poisoning, which I learned when she called me at 6:30 A.M. and with raspy voice asked for ginger ale. I scavenged until I found some and hurried to her room to find her dressed in a terry robe and looking, well, forlorn. I commiserated with her for a few minutes and then she walked me to the door and I exited … directly into a high-ranking NASA official, who looked at me, and at bed-headed Diane in her robe, and gave the ol’ “Well, surprise, surprise” look that you’d expect at such a moment. For the record, it was an errand of mercy.

Lesson 3: When you’re headed to the FHWA in McLean, Virginia, don’t turn too soon.

On a bright spring day soon after I started at Akoya, our CCO Nancy and I had driven down from Pittsburgh to meet with clients at the Federal Highway Research Center. As I turned off the GW Parkway there was a moment of confusion about whether to take the first or second right. Nancy said, “This is it!” So I turned, and knew at once this wasn’t it. We were in a stream of cars heading to CIA Headquarters. A sign at a checkpoint ordered guests to stop while cars with credentials sped on by. A stern voice on an intercom said, “Can I help you?” I stammered, “Wrong turn … big mistake … turn around?” The voice said to proceed to the security station where I was brought in like they park the jets at the airport, and three guards held automatic weapons on the contractors from Pittsburgh. Personally I thought the German shepherd unnecessary. We were detained 30 long minutes while they checked our driver’s licenses and my PA car registration. Finally the guard cleared us … the delay was caused by my just-expired registration sticker. (Flash back to a week earlier, telling my wife: Registration sticker? Yeah, yeah, I’ll get to it.) At last we breathed free air at Federal Highway, where we related the tale to our client. He said, “I could’ve told you—never take the first right off the GW Parkway.” Lesson learned.

Corollary Lesson for PA residents: Always affix your registration sticker to your PA license plate as soon as it arrives.